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We cannot thank you enough for the kindness, love and joy that you have brought all of us and especially Sean.Juan and Esther
Parents of Sean
From Our Experts: Give Yourself the Gift of Presence

By Laurie Hopkins, MS OTR/L
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.”

I am choosing the words of one of the wisest and most noble women in North American history, Eleanor Roosevelt, to begin my “tis the season” article for this column. Further I am using the theme of presents, which often dominates our various celebrations throughout the month of December; albeit often limited to a material form of gift giving, as a way to draw attention to the need for increased mindfulness, self-regulation, modulation…..and yes, being in the present moment.

 

Many, if not most individuals on the spectrum, are dealing with varying degrees of sensory processing challenges, often due to sensory overload and the need to avoid what causes disequilibrium in their nervous systems. At the same time, they often experience the need to seek out sensory experiences in an intensive and quite compulsive manner, in an attempt to provide their taxed nervous systems, with a sensory “antidote.” Thus we can observe our loved ones ritualistically repeating the same patterns over and over, in a desperate attempt to create a “sensory screen or filter” in order to over-ride the other sensory experiences which are perceived as noxious to their nervous systems.

At times it might be the noise level or type of sounds, smells and/or activities occurring in their surroundings; all of these being external triggers for becoming disregulated. Just as prevalent, however, there can be internal triggers that result in sensory processing challenges. If you take a small step back from this discussion of those on the spectrum, you might quickly realize that those of us who are sometimes called “neurotypical,” can just as easily become overwhelmed, agitated, and extra emotional, seeking to avoid certain situations and/or tenaciously attempting to substitute a more comfortable situation or sensation.

Further, we can just as easily become disregulated by too much of a “wonderful thing,” as we can by something that disturbs us. In terms of stress chemistry reactions, stress and eustress (i.e. “good stress”) can put equal pressure on our nervous systems.

Therefore, during this season of ultra-merriment, rich eating and drinking experiences, gift-giving and virtual non-stop planning, shopping, cooking, and visiting…not to mention, brightly blinking and flashing lights wherever one looks, it might be helpful to remember the gift that doesn’t require a box or wrapping…..that only requires one to take a deep breath (or 2 or 3), come into a place of inner quiet, even if it’s for a nanosecond, and remind oneself to be here now, to slow down and to offer a nourishing treat to your nervous system…the gift of being in the present moment.